When I first found out that I was pregnant, I was living with my mom and her husband for the summer to work and save up money for my junior year of college. My mom had gotten remarried right after I turned 18, and just before I moved up to college, so living at “home” wasn’t really home for me. I was, mentally and emotionally, a mess. The relationship that I had been in for 6 months was toxic (for both of us) and we had just decided to take a break. So, in short, I was a nightmare to live with.

My stepdad, Lynn, was a saint. I am certain that he is the reason I am alive today. While he and my mom were on their honeymoon, I took off to the British Virgin Islands with my high school boyfriend and his family to sail on a boat for 10 days. When I got home, they picked me up from the airport and I expected the worst. Instead, Lynn asked about my trip and my mother sat quietly and, I’m sure, tried to keep from bursting into flames.

So it was no surprise when, two years later, I announced that I was pregnant and his first reaction was to embrace me and tell me it would be okay. I remember never wanting to leave his arms, because in that very moment I believed that the pain would go away and I really would survive this.

Lynn and my mom encouraged me to seek counseling before deciding what to do about the baby. They were more concerned about MY well-being at the time, because the baby was perfectly safe inside of me for another 7 months. After each session, I would go home and discuss it with Lynn. He was an electrician by trade, but I remember thinking he was one of the wisest men I had ever met.

I began to make an adoption plan when I was about 4 months pregnant, and I met the couple that I would place with when I was 6 months pregnant. During those months, Lynn became my confidant and one of my best friends. My dad was going through his own turmoil, and so even though Lynn did not try to take over the Father role, he was the father figure I needed at the time. He helped me remember long-term perspectives, and constantly assured me that regardless of if I parented or placed, I would always have a home with them and my child would be loved just like all of the other grandchildren.

On December 30, 2009, the couple that I had chosen to place my son with came to visit. They attended the expectant mother support group with me, then I asked them to meet my mom and stepdad. It felt surreal. All of the most important people in my life were coming together and comfortably discussing everything from politics to circumcision. I realized that night, looking at the people surrounding me, that blood does not define family. It was such a strong realization, and it still makes my heart pound to think about.

Two weeks later, we got terrible news. Lynn was diagnosed with prostate cancer, then lung cancer when they did a screening for surgery. It was a blow to the entire family, as his doctors assumed it was metastatic. Many prayers were said and plans were made. Even with all of the medical issues going on, Lynn stayed positive and continued to be a support to me.

Two weeks later, we got some great news—he did not have lung cancer! He had sarcoidosis, a lung disease he had had for years, but no lung cancer. The prostate cancer could be treated, and it looked like things would be fine. He was put on steroids for the sarcoidosis and other drugs for the prostate cancer. He had decided against prostate surgery until after I had my baby, because he wanted to be there to support our family.

February 7, 2010 was Superbowl Sunday. We celebrated with food and family, but Lynn told us that night that he was not feeling well. Over the next two days, it was obvious that he had caught the flu.

February 9, 2010 was the last time that I spoke with Lynn. His assistant had called my mom earlier that day to come get him from work, because he was acting like an Alzheimer’s patient. He was repeating himself and kept forgetting where he was or what he was doing. He came home and my mom made him lie on the couch for the rest of the day. That evening, my mom wanted to go run errands and asked me to keep an eye on him and make sure he was staying hydrated. I remember having a pit in my stomach and calling my mom, telling her something wasn’t right. Lynn was looking right past me and mumbling incoherently. My mom rushed him to the ER.

The next three days were a blur. Lynn went into a coma within a few hours of arriving at the ER, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was happening. His ammonia levels were skyrocketing, and they feared brain damage. They decided to transport him to the University of Utah hospital, to the Neuro-ICU. Just before transport, I went into his hospital room and begged him to come back, to not make me do this alone. I was due in nine days. I told him I would do it if I had to, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him not being there.

I was due on February 21. Lynn was still in a coma, and we were basically living at the University Hospital. Rather than just wait for something to happen, I opted to be induced on February 20. The guilt that I felt for my mom being by MY side, rather than Lynn’s, was overwhelming. I just wanted to have everything over and done with so we could focus on Lynn again. February 21, I spent the day in the hospital with my son and his birth father. That evening, even though I knew that I should let my mom focus on Lynn, I called her and told her I wasn’t sure that I could do it. She calmed me, and reassured me that I would make the right choice. I felt Lynn’s influence through her.

February 22, surrounded by my mom, my son’s birth father and his parents, I placed my son into the arms of his forever parents. Lynn was not there.

Being nine months pregnant one day, then being 0% pregnant three days later can make for some awkward conversation. Nurses, who did not know the situation, would frequently ask where my little one was. I spent the two weeks after placement in the Neuro-ICU of the University Hospital. I dealt with engorgement, heavy bleeding, and an aching heart on a hard plastic couch. My God-send was my son’s parents. They sent photos daily, and constantly checked in on me. They grieved with me over the unknown with my stepdad. Before they flew home, they let me see my son. Lynn had saved my life while I was pregnant; they saved my life after placement. I was never without support.

In May, three months after placement, we learned that Lynn would never come out of his coma. The damage had been done, and was irreversible. In those three months the doctors discovered that his sarcoidosis had spread to his brain, and that he also had a metabolic disorder called OTC deficiency, which is usually caught in infancy, and had caused brain death. Meanwhile, my birth son continued to grow and was a shining light in my life. His parents constantly kept me updated, and always expressed their love and concern for my family.

We brought Lynn home to pass away. He passed away late in the evening on his 52nd birthday. He was surrounded by love.

Losing Lynn has been the most painful experience of my life. I had lost a grandparent, even a friend. But losing Lynn was different. The grief I felt from placing my son was nowhere near the grief I felt from losing a parent. My son is alive. My son is growing, thriving, happy. I can hug him and touch him. I can hear his sweet voice. His adoption started me on my path of hope. Lynn, on the other hand, is gone. Although my religious beliefs tell me that I will see him again, the reality is that it will not be for a very, very long time. I will not be able to laugh with, talk to, or hug Lynn again. That is what his death means. Believing in a life after death does not soften the blow or ease the loneliness early on.

When people ask me if placing my son was the hardest thing I have ever done, I tell them yes. I do not consider it the largest loss in my life, though. I gained so much from placing my son. I gained love, a larger family, and confidence in myself. I believe it took losing Lynn to make me realize what a blessing adoption has been in my life.